Tag Archives: how to top the board exam

Day 72: #100HappyDays
Conic Sections at Ayala

The Conic Sections
The Conic Sections

My very soon to be sister-in-law Grace is preparing for her board exams this September. Amidst all the wedding and career hooplah I am currently subjected to, we finally found the time to sit together, share some McDo shaker fries in Ayala area after a hard day’s work and discuss about conic sections. I sorely miss one on one mentoring for board exam reviews. It’s just one way of giving back to the future engineers of this country that I will never grow tired of doing. Besides, this bridezilla needs a break, for real.

I had to refresh myself a bit while I held her reviewers containing shortcuts of formula. I think I did something right during my board exam because three or four years on, I can still remember how these conic section formulae were derived in under 30 minutes.It’s not because I am smart (though some people always insist on that). It’s more because I am strategic with my approach to learning things.

Here is the gist of today’s board exam tip: You never unlearn things when you learn them in a very deep and imaginative way.

How did I propose that Grace remember the formula for conic sections? It was just simple. I requested that she only remember the general formula and use the image of the conic section to imagine how it would look like:

Ax^2 + Bxy + Cy^2 + Dx + Ey + F = 0

where A, B, C, D, E, and F are constants.

You see, by itself, it has no meaning. But when you imagine something fun like an ice cream cone and slice it in different ways and apply math to it, it becomes interesting. For her homework, I think I asked Grace to buy Play Doh, shape it into a cone and recall the formula of the conic sections in her head as she slices the clay cone.

The reviewer will just give you a list of shortcuts to gargle until the big day. But if you do not know how these were derived, you can get mental block on the day of the exam, forget the memory work you did (like a parrot who imitates the human words to get food from its master without knowing what the words mean).

(An Important Note: Don’t derive during the exam per se. But during review, just understand where the formula came from!)

Do not be afraid to create your own shortcuts or deviate a little from what other people are doing during review. If you do better by graphing or imagining an ice cream cone sliced in various directions, do it!

And yes, nobody is too young for Play Doh. Go make your playtime productive.


A Friendship Forged by Skyflakes

(This might not instantly sound like a board exam tip, but it is. Just read through.)

Being the youngest engineer in our company, I discovered how I sorely miss having peers to mentally spar thoughts with. I had a lot of these peer-given intellectual stimulation from college days, board exam review, and my other two jobs. During my board exam review, a huge component of the success we (UP graduates) had as a team came from the very solid support that we got from each other.  One of the joys of learning is discovering things at the same time with another person who loves the industry or subject as much as you do.

You might think that I had a lot of support during review. In fact, I spent a great deal of my time crying especially during the last 3 months of it. I had numerous arguments with my mother during review season. She told me that my preparations were overkill whenever I ask her to turn the television off while I am reviewing.

My immediate family suffered a lot from my “extreme” measures of preparing for the license exam. This is one painful truth about aspiring for something. As a person preparing for board exam, you can silently expect to be ostracized by people who are not able to understand the magnitude of your board exam preparations. You will get criticized, you may be called “OA”, and even your own school might not be as supportive with your efforts especially if they think that board exams are just a giant dog and pony show.

There may be some truth in the fact that a board exam does not make an engineer in the truest sense of the word. But it still brings in a lot of advantage in your career advancement. As you advance, you can be opposed heavily even by people you expect to understand you at this phase. But you have to be determined enough to surmount those insults and just keep striving to give it your all. These adversities will prompt you to answer this question: How much do you want this? How far are you willing to let this take you?

My concept for overpreparing during review is that I wanted to trudge through life with no regrets. I don’t want to look at my score in the board exam and have a what if nagging in my head. I don’t want to give less than my best and then ask myself later: What if I studied harder? Would I have gotten a better score if I ditched my other work or lessened my Facebook time? I actually have board exam buddies who had that in their head and well, it’s not really a very peaceful afterthought though you can eventually get over it.

As far as I know, I gave that exam my best shot and I was fortunate to discover that my efforts somehow loved me back. In love or relationships, you can give everything you’ve got and still be unappreciated. But in your studies, work and board exam, you can give it your all and somehow expect a good thing coming back.

The other day, I slept at my fiancé’s house and I experienced the other side of the fence, so to speak. My SO’s sister is preparing for her design defense and juggling it with her board exam review with other fellow students. This translates to numerous overnight sessions with a lot of engineering guys and girls, that are, in a young females’ family’s point of view, very difficult to adjust to. I had those too in college and my mom hated the fact that a new person kept sleeping at our place every other night. It’s really a thing that consumes resources.

Board exam season is not the right time to deal with heavily emotional issues. Avoid all distractions if humanely possible. If people criticize you for your methods of preparing for your exam, please don’t take it personally. Remember this: only those who are able to experience the actual pressure of reviewing and getting the license with some ambition to aim a good slot or rank will be able to commiserate, understand your situation, and make allowances for you. The true test is that even when you have all these hassles and lack of support from your loved ones, you should still want to become a licensed engineer.

Having said that, it might be good to buddy up with the right people for the much-needed support. During review class, don’t sit with people who do nothing but chitchat about other things and who do not know what they want out of the exam. I mean, it’s good to have a break once in a while and I am a fairly talkative person with people that I like. But when it comes to the actual business of absorbing as much information as possible for the board exam, it is best to sit with like-minded people with the same goals as you have. You can be charitable enough to teach others what you know after you made your preparations solidly. But you cannot let toxic people eat your time and discourage you from your goals for the exam.

To balance, I have to say that it is not just about you at this phase. You also need to consider your family or loved ones who are suffering from your new schedule. In my case, I decided to move out of my house so that I can study in a quiet place and that my family can resume watching noontime shows or whatever they feel like doing at home. I also decided not to eat too much (it makes me really sleepy when I do that!) and settled on veggies, soya, and Skyflakes to avoid ulcers. I do this so that my minimal allowance from my father monthly will not be wasted. I try to preserve the monthly allowance as much as I can because I decided not to work during review and money does not come from trees.

Speaking of Skyflakes… I had a good friend during board exam that turned out to be one of my closest friends beyond board exam. His name is Homer. It was a friendship forged by Skyflakes because we can only afford to eat Skyflakes and a regular-sized container of french fries during our overnight sessions at Mcdo Morayta.

We talk almost everyday during board exam review. Until now, we find ourselves talking with each other regularly about life, about work, and about how we got here from where we were before. I cannot imagine life without one of my good friends.

Certainly, there have been many changes. We used to be wide-eyed engineer wannabes who like playing with the Crystal Eye webcam of our classmate:


He graduated cum laude and he had the pressure to live up to during the exam. People were somehow relying on him to top the exam. I had the pressure to make the most of the exam because I had a challenging schedule as a working student in college. Somewhere, our goals intersected and we used that to sharpen each other’s saw intellectually.

We are now both licensed engineers. We got what we want and more. He is now happily employed in the banking sector. I guess we are not filthy rich like most people, but we can somehow afford a good meal, like an occasional Friday night dinner:




We had buffalo wings, tempura, fried rice, and that weird froyo dessert Teriyaki Boy had been promoting in their menu listing. The dessert was not as good as we expected, but the buffalo wings are spicy and extremely rich in flavor.


Strangely, I already mentioned our top 1 engineer (Machele), my model bestfriend Jhona (top 8), and my little brother Joseph (top 9) in this blog, but I have not yet made a post about Homer, who succeeded in garnering third place in that same board exam. So I am making this board exam tip post today as a form of thanks to my good friend Homer for being with me during board exam and beyond.


As we watched the Cubao night scene from where we were seated, we talked about how things have turned out for us professionally including the numerous adversities we encountered as students and aspiring engineers.


Another unspoken but true lesson learned from preparing for the board exam is that you will know who your true friends are under the times of severe stress. If you are open and fortunate, you can also find the best people you can spend your life with as you hit those books and crunch those numbers in your PRC-approved calculator. Another engineer I know met her partner in life during review classes. The possibilities are endless, really. It’s not always about getting the best grade there is, although you can wear yourself out trying to achieve things.

So to those who are having a hard time during review and are experiencing the frictions that only the pressure of the board exam can provide, here’s one tried and tested advice:  toughen up with the insults, get working with laser-beam focus on your study plan, make friends with the good bunch for support, kill distractions immediately, and do your best.

In truth, there are no physical costs equivalent to a real friendship but they’re absolutely priceless. The relationship may or may not be perpetually sustained by expensive night outs of wine or a night out at a nice place like Teriyaki Boy. Sometimes, the best moments involve munching on Skyflakes mindlessly while juggling index cards that need memorizing with a down-to-earth person that you can be comfortably yourself with.

Homer and I may be eating and sharing more than Skyflakes at this phase of life, but I will always remember him fondly as the review buddy who linked an armpit mnemonic (private joke ito!) to presidential decrees with me as we juggled our numerous thoughts on life and on our goals. Thank you so much, Homer, and see you tomorrow. :)

Should I Get a Job during Board Exam Review?

I know It’s been AGES since I posted another board exam tip. It did not help that my first three posts of board exam tips got lost in the last hacking attack on Helena blog. Sorry to that guy who emailed to ask where the other three posts are; even I do not have backup copies. I hope you are still reading this blog because I was unable to email you back that time.

I will be revamping this blog very soon (as soon as my poor head comes to a decision on how to revamp it), but I can no longer ignore the emails I have been receiving from board exam reviewees who are waiting for another post. I am thankful and blessed to hear stories of people who passed their exam or find this blog useful. I am kind of hoping that beyond the board exam tips, I can still offer other valuable posts for more readers.

For this post, I am going to answer a popular question which I recently answered to this year’s batch of GE reviewees in UP in our organization. Some of the people I talk to keep their jobs; some take a leave one or two months before the actual board exam. It’s different strokes for different folks.

But I did not work at all while I was reviewing, not even to do freelance writing. I was sorely tempted, yes. But I gritted my teeth and focused on becoming an engineer.

Honestly, I cannot really tell everyone to quit their jobs because reviewing for a board exam and taking review classes cost a lot of money. And those who have families to support immediately after graduation will not be able to do this. I was only able to focus on my board exam review for nine months because my father agreed to give me a monthly allowance. I am forever grateful for that. It was good that my own father agreed that he wants me to achieve the highest possible grade I can get in the board exam and made sure I eat three square meals per day despite my unemployment.

Now, during my time, I had 4 hours per day in Review Innovations Study Center from Monday to Friday. It was from 5pm to 9pm. Basically, I had the mornings and afternoons to myself. But I used them well.

I followed a rule of three for mastery: tackle a concept three times and you will master it. The first time, you go through it during your personal review. The second time, you go through it during review classes. The third time, you go through it during refresher classes.

I was unable to study thrice for all topics covered in the board exam. I was only able to do two for some and 2.5 for the others. There were some which were easy to go over three times because I naturally liked those subjects.

But here’s the thing, even if your parents cannot support you, you can take a personal loan for at least 4 months before your board exam. Sure, it will cost you an arm and leg and this giant utang na loob to your “financer” because you will basically find a job after board exam and you might have to suffer more financially at that waiting period. But during review, that debt may psychologically push you to do better in your review. Umutang ka na rin lang, itodo mo na ang pag-aaral, diba. But it’s quite risky.

I have seen working reviewees and I was convinced that all that fatigue I witnessed from them is something I cannot handle. My schedule during review was made in such a way that I get a full 7 hours of sleep every night from January to August. A week before my board exam, I slept 8 hours per night. I ate vegetables, soya milk, and all those brain food I can get my hands on. I avoided getting sick and I only missed one day during review because of a lousy asthma attack. Even when my gold earrings got snatched in a jeepney going to Recto, I still went to class.

I humbly acknowledge that my style may no longer be feasible for some of my readers. But my advice still stands: if you can find a way or afford not to work while reviewing, do it! :D